I was so excited a few years ago when I knew Demien Chazelle was preparing a new movie because I had completely loved Whiplash, one of my favorite movies of all time. And of course, when I saw La La Land I included it on that list as well. At that time, I knew there was an 18-minute short film which received acclaim after debuting at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, winning the short film Jury Award for fiction and that that short film was the primal version of Whiplash. But I didn't know there was an earlier movie, the very first project of Demien Chazelle, called Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, which was directed, written, produced, shot, and co-edited by him.
It's a great romantic musical movie filmed in black & white. The main story is about a jazz trumpeter called Guy an his relationship with this shy, sweet girl Madeline. At the beginning of the movie we see, in a couple of minutes, the way they connected and how the excitement faded after a few months. Then Guy meets Elena, who's more outgoing that Madeline and that ends the other romance. Then, Madeline tries to rebuild her life, changing apartment and looking for a new job. Meanwhile, Guy begins to consider his decision. Elena shows no interest in his music, which Madeline did, and he has lost that important part by losing her. So he persuits her until they ramdomly runs into each other in a New York corner. Madeline invites Guy to come in her new place but tells him she's leaving soon. He plays something for her with the trumpet and they look each other with a glimpse of a smile. Are they getting back together? We cannot know because the credits appears, calling the end of the movie.
It's a simple modest independent film but it carries within all of the elements that made those later productions from Chazelle great. First and above of it all, his trademark: Jazz. Guy is a talented jazz trumpeter, so we see several live jazz performances and jazz references and how much Demien Chazelle loves Jazz music over all of the others. In a scene, a car passes by, blasting some hip-hop music and Guy says to the camera:
"...that's what I'm talking about. They turn their stereos up and it's loud. It's like you never hear anybody blasting Coltrane, you know, or some Charlie Parker or some Billie Holiday [...] or like a Mahler symphony [...] I don't know, maybe the day will come when we hear all types of music being blast".
There's also choreographed tap dancing, as well as several more traditional musical numbers that are quite unusual in these low budget films. But in spite of the lacking of great costumes, or a big dance crew, all the dancing scenes look good. Jason Palmer (Guy) is a professional trumpeter and Desiree Garcia (Madeline) sings a couple of songs in a great way and she dances too. So yes, we're not talking about outstanding actors but they do it pretty well actually. The big triumph is the music. Every piece, every song, suits perfectly for each scene and it's clear the similarity with those indrecidble soundtracks from Whiplash and La La Land. And that's because the music was composed by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Chazelle (they've worked together from the very beginning!). This explosive duo were roommates at Harvard University, so they worked together in this film which was originally planned as Chazelle's thesis.
And we also have a sad love story. And I say sad because things don't work out for Guy and Madeline and they don't work for Guy and Elena either. And when a regreted Guy searches for Madeline and finally finds her she doesn't seem so interested in getting back together with him. And I mean, why would she? she spents the whole movie getting away, rebuilding her life, and now Guy, beacuse Elena's not good enough for him or whatever, comes back here to take Madeline back. I know there's a look and a smile at the end, but I don't think she should get back with him.
So, what we have here is the story of a failed love, great and plenty jazz, dancing secuences, decent performances, and a marvelous soundtrack. We see the seed of that later great film called La La Land they made years after that, conquering audiences from all over the world. The Jazz, the love, the chase of dreams, the price to success, all that is already in this 82 minutes independent movie. Being honest, is a 6/10 stars movie, a few steps below his later works (obviously) but incredibly good for a debut and it showed the world the genius there was in this jazz lover young man called Demien Chazelle. So it totally worth watching.